Every letter I wrote in Dear Universe has a story behind it. Some of those stories are funny. Some of those stories are heartbreaking. And some of those stories enrage me. So much that every time I open the book to read them, I remember the pain and hurt that lead to their creation...
"Dear Universe, Today I ask that you help me to remember: God does not favor people..."
This is the beginning of a letter that angers me every time I read it. A young black gay man inspired it. No, wait, that's not true -- a lot of young black gay men inspired it. It was written in response to the things I have heard loving and supporting black gay men throughout my life.
One of the events that inspired this letter happened on a Sunday afternoon at Piedmont Park in Atlanta. In case you don't know, Sundays at Piedmont are a time when many black gay men gather, cruise and flirt. It is also a place where I have had many life-changing conversations on spirituality and love. It was in one of those conversations that a young black gay man, who I only knew in passing, once shared this:
"I have had a lot of stuff happen to me in my life. And I know other folks have too. But I watch folks around me get things. Get better. Have people, family... and even when I try it never works for me. Never. My pastor says that you know when you are in God's favor... and I just... I've just come to understand that God does not favor me. That's the only explanation I can find for why things always seem to be so hard, why my family isn't here for me, why things are always taken away."
When I tell this story, people assume my first response to his story was sadness. But it was not. And thankfully, my mind did not move toward pity either.
No, in that moment, I was furious. I wanted to storm into every church that had dared to teach a person "God had special people" or "favored certain folks" and rip the fans from the ceilings and throw them through the slimy stained glass windows.
Why the rage, you ask? I mean, surely as a black gay person, who at that time lived in the South, I must have been accustomed to this kind of doctrine, right? Well, not exactly. First off, I didn't grow up going to church. And while I did grow up in the South, where Christianity was omnipresent, the experience of being invested in church culture -- or having church culture invested in you -- is not one that I know. So there are many things that black gay men who grew up in the church believe, or have experienced, that seem foreign to me... and in many ways, unfathomable.
During that time I was also working as a case management counselor. My job entailed many responsibilities, but hearing black gay men recite how their bodies were sinful, how God was an external force, and how they knew they were "going to hell" was a large part of it.
These ideas about God, compounded with homophobia, HIV stigma, and other forms of oppression devastated many of the young men. They helped to trample their self-esteem, strengthen their suicidal ideations, and sent many of them spiraling towards self-defeat. Hearing his story triggered my rage at those who taught these theological concepts. Because I was seeing firsthand the disastrous impact they had on the emotional and spiritual lives of black gay men.
"God does not favor people. The Universe does not favor people."
Who does it serve to have a "higher power" that "favors" some people, while leaving the rest of us living in lack and injustice? Who does it serve to have a creator that when we "fall out of his favor" allows our children to be killed and our neighborhoods to be neglected? Who does it serve to have a God that favors people?
I'll tell you who it serves. It serves preachers and pastors who own black diamonds and fly in private jets. It serves CEOs and government officials who justify cutting social programs and hauling our public systems into private control. It serves bougie-aspirational Christian middle-class folks who constantly refer to themselves as "blessed" and "highly favored" instead of as privileged and self-absorbed.
Because in this train of thought, we are not marginalized and impoverished because of sexism, the IMF, racism, transphobia, or ableism, but because the supreme creator of the universe just isn't that fond of us. So when people succeed, they are "favored" by this God, a God that curiously seems to rely on class, skin color, gender and global exploitation in order to bestow "blessing."
Whether this is the intention of this doctrine is irrelevant. Its impact is what is the problem. It is one of many harmful spiritual concepts that justifies the massive inequality in our world. Because at it's root, when God has "special people" that means some of us are not special. It means some of us are not worthy of food, or water, or walking the streets without being killed for who we are. Because we are simply not in God's favor.
"It is a system of inequality that favors people. It is a system of inequality that creates injustice."
When I wrote Dear Universe, I wrote these passages to say to him what I couldn't find the words to say then. I wanted him to know that his life challenges were not because some great bearded man did not like him. I wanted him to understand that there are structural powers and a historical context at work. I wanted him to know that he had a power within that in unison with those in his community could transform his conditions.
I wanted him to know that first and foremost, his inner power was what he needed to have in his favor.
I hope one day, whether he believes what I believe or not, that he comes to an understanding that is he is not "out of favor" with God -- however he defines it. I hope he recovers from the pain and hurt of classist and elitist doctrine. I hope inevitably, that we all do..